Scofflaws who may have been shirking their court-ordered duty to attend alcohol or drug counseling sessions since state budget cuts ended a state-funded defendant-monitoring program on the Kenai Peninsula will be back on the hook Sept. 2.
The Division of Behavioral Health has reassessed the need for an Alcohol Safety Action Program office on the peninsula, one of several offices across the state that closed last month when funding was vetoed by Gov. Frank Murkowski.
The local program had been funded by a $100,000 state grant that paid Akeela Treatment Services of Anchorage to provide monitoring services, which amounted to acting as a liaison between courts and peninsula-based counseling service providers. Akeela acted under the auspices of ASAP in Anchorage.
Within weeks of the funding cut, counseling services began reporting a high rate of no-shows among those ordered by the court to comply with counseling recommendations as part of their sentences.
Come Sept. 2, however, ASAP will restart on the peninsula with a grant of $80,000, enough to keep it running for the next 10 months, said Bill Hogan, director of the behavioral health division. That money includes start-up costs, he said. Akeela will be the monitoring service provider.
The quick reversal came as a result of news articles that alerted state officials to the problems on the peninsula, Hogan said.
"We were looking at making veto recommendations to the commissioner (of the Department of Health and Social Services) and the governor," Hogan said. "We looked at the rural ASAP programs."
In most rural communities, ASAP acted as a liaison between just one court and one counseling service provider. Hogan saw little rationale for a liaison under those circumstances, and rural ASAP funding was cut.
"What I discovered on the Kenai is that there are at least three courts and seven providers," he said Thursday. "It became pretty apparent we needed liaison or go-between functions on the peninsula. We looked for the money within our division and came up with the dollars to reinstate it. Clearly, there was a real need for the liaison function."
Hogan said the division had little time to make its original veto recommendations.
He said the issue of ASAP on the peninsula had "risen to the level of the governor" after articles noting the rising level of noncompliance by defendants appeared in the Peninsula Clarion.
As an example, take the case of the Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, one of several peninsula counseling services. According to Director Henry Novak, nine out of 10 of those expected to attend counseling services in Kenai had canceled or simply not shown up within a few weeks of the loss of funding to ASAP roughly 40 people.
On Thursday, Novak called it "a good decision" to reinstate the program. He said there remain many defendants who are not complying, all of whom will have been reported to the courts. Novak predicted the courts will have a glut of noncomplying defendants to deal with.
"It will be a bit unwieldy, but we are glad to have the program back," he said.
Judge David Landry, magistrate for the Kenai District Court, said at the time that the budget cut had been "by far, the most negative" thing he'd seen since assuming the magistrate's position four years earlier. Landry could not be reached for comment by late Thursday afternoon.
Looking beyond the next 10 months, it is not yet certain the program would be funded again next fiscal year.
"We are just now beginning to put together the FY05 budget," Hogan said. "It is premature to predict what '05 will look like and how ASAP might be affected. We will probably have a better idea by November."
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